For an easy weekend of winter camping, load up a fatbike and roll out to Groton State Forest.
By TRISTAN VON DUNTZ | PHOTOS BY JAKE HAMM
If anyone knows me, they know I love bikes. Even more, I love to come up with new ways to ride them. So when my good friend and talented photographer Jake Hamm gave me a call in the middle of last winter looking to ride and asked, “What do you have up your sleeve?” it just so happened I was in the mist of planning a winter fat bike ride. I told him about my plan: Ride into Groton State Forest on groomed and packed trails, camp out and ride back. A two-day, one-night ride adventure. I could hear Jake smile as he said, “Sounds perfect.”
One month later, the living room of my house in Marshfield is an absolute mess of bike gear (Jake is Cannondale’s staff photographer), beer and camp food. We also convinced Ansel Dickey, a Cannondale ambassador and former professional rider from Woodstock to join us. Ansel makes riding fast and smiling at the same time look easy.
Between the three of us, my house was filled with multiple fat bikes, technical clothing and gear, food, so much camera gear you could sink a ship with it and of course, some of our favorite Vermont craft beer—pretty standard around here.
We built up the new Cannondale CAAD 2 fat bikes and dialed them in to fit each of us, and then drove out to Groton State Forest to stage some firewood at our campsite, which I had reserved through the offseason system at Vermont State Parks. Then, it was back to my house, where we packed all of our gear into frame bags, handlebar rolls and seat packs.
Conditions for the weekend looked to be cold and crunchy, perfect for fat biking. Pro tip: When you can’t hear your riding partner tell you about how she/he finally figured out they’ve been airing up their winter tires too much and they’ve finally got them down around 7-8 psi and they are stoked, that means it’s epic fat bike conditions and you better get after it.
Winter adventure fatbiking isn’t a fast-paced, glitzy or glamorous sport. It’s quite the opposite.
Vermont was in the midst of one of its deepest, coldest winters in a while, and I had been putting in some serious time grooming a six-mile network of private trails around my house in Marshfield. Too often I would groom late into the night, get in, take a shower and get in bed still smelling like the 1980s snowmachine I use to pull a tractor tire to make smooth, firm winter singletrack.
The plan was simple: to ride through my groomed trails into downtown Plainfield, where we would pick up scenic groomed trails on private property and then ride the Cross Vermont Trail and groomed VAST trails over nine miles into the 25,000-acre Groton State Forest. There, we would bike up to our three-walled shelter in New Discovery State Park.
We pedaled our way into beautiful hardwood forest, past old red barns and hunting camps. We popped out of the woods near Goddard State College and took the pavement to the Plainfield park and ride, where markers blaze the way to the State Forest. Pedaling along the Cross Vermont Trail, you see remnants and relics of the old railroad that traveled this corridor. It’s easy to imagine yourself 100 years ago on a trail that used to serve a very different purpose.
At one point on the railbed, you can drop into downtown Marshfield to get provisions at the general store and Rainbow Sweets Bakery, but we skipped the side trip that day and headed deeper into the forest. Soon we were coming around a bend where Marshfield Mountain peeked out at us over trailside Bailey Pond.
The bare maple, birch and beech trees gave way to views that are closed off by summer foliage, and we stopped at a log landing to take some cool shots among the beastly machines used for logging. The working landscape is part of a new commercial maple sugaring operation, and we stayed for a while and watched the loggers working.
From the log landing, we embarked on a stretch of trail that passed lakes and ponds dotting the post-glacial landscape. Short offshoots lead down to waterfront camps, some closed for the winter, and others serving as year-round havens for adventure.
Glacial erratics cropped up throughout the woods as we pedaled closer to Groton State Forest, where the landscape was dramatically shaped by advancing and retreating ice millions of years ago. The ride was incredibly beautiful. And, thanks to a gentle grade, the trails were an easy ride, even though we were loaded down with heavy camping and camera gear.
Winter adventure fat biking isn’t a fast-paced, glitzy or glamorous sport. It’s quite the opposite, and I enjoyed a pace that allowed for casual conversation, a rest stop to enjoy the scenery, a drink or snack, or even a short detour as we rambled down the path.
We knew our destination was coming, and we kept moving to stay warm, rolling right up to our three-walled home for the night. We could have opted for a longer distance (about another 11 miles with some road riding) to reach more expensive comfortable lodging at state-run Seyon Lodge, with a crackling fire in the living room, beds, and gourmet food, but this wasn’t that kind of trip. We were looking forward to a night of primitive fire, libations, and old-fashioned conversation, with only our winter sleeping bags to keep us warm.
As we arrived and settled in, our first priority was to change into dry clothes and get warm. Jake wielded a small hatchet and took care of splitting wood for the fire while Ansel handled my trusty Norwegian compact aluminum shovel like a true woodchuck and dug out the fire pit. Before we knew it, we were warm, happy and eating homemade chili.
As we drank beer, sipped whiskey into the night, and toasted a few marshmallows, the sky overhead was a canopy of cold, unmatched silence. Even though we were not far away from civilization, with Route 232 just a short jog away and home only a few miles beyond that, we were deep in winter adventure mode and there was no other place we would rather be.
Featured Photo Caption: Author Tristan von Duntz (left) and Ansel Dickey roll on groomed trails toward their destination in Groton State Forest.
Gear and Clothing List
Cannondale CAAD 2 fatbikes
Soft Goods custom frame bag
Blackburn HB Roll and dry bag
Blackburn Outpost Elite seat bag
Big Agnes Air Core sleeping pad
Big Agnes Anvil Horn Zero-Degree bag
MSR Whisperlite stove
Ibex Shak hoodie
Ibex wool beanie, knickers and bibs
Club Ride Fat Jack mountain bike pants
Club Ride Blaze vest
Lake MXZ400 shoes
Darn Tough Hker Boot cushion sock x2
Patagonia Down Aweater hoodie
Patagonia Cap 3 base layer
Black Diamond Legend gloves
Meet Max wool bandana
Giro Montaro MIPS helmet
Cookpot, food and utensils